12 Jul 2017

Tips for Applying to Graduate School

Tips for Applying to Graduate School

Applying to graduate school can be a challenging process that requires effort, patience and time. However, there are many things you can do to overcome your anxiety about the application process. Here are some tips that APA gathered from recruiters and successful graduate students that can help bring you one step closer to acceptance at your dream school.

Find you perfect match

Selecting the graduate program in psychology that is best for you requires thoughtful consideration. First, think carefully about your career goals and training interests, then apply to programs with graduates that succeed in the types of jobs and training programs you are most interested in. In addition, make sure your previous education and training have prepared you for success in the program. As you review graduate programs, ask these questions:

  1. What is the profile of recently admitted students in terms of academic background, standardized test scores, research experience, work experience and demographic characteristics? Your profile should be similar to theirs to help ensure your acceptance to and success within the program.
  2. What is the program's success rate in terms of the percentage of admitted students who graduate, and what is the average number of years they required to do so?
  3. What are the goals and objectives of the program? Do they match your interests and academic preparation as a prospective graduate student?
  4. For programs with an emphasis on academic and research careers, what is the record of graduates' success in obtaining postdoctoral research fellowships, academic appointments or applied research positions outside a college or university setting?
  5. For programs that require an internship or practicum, what is the success rate of placement for students attending the program? What level of assistance is provided to students in obtaining practicum and internship placements?
  6. For programs with an emphasis on professional practice, what is the program's accreditation status (only applicable to clinical, counseling and school doctoral programs)? Are their graduates successful in obtaining licensure, in being selected for advanced practice residencies, and in getting jobs after they finish training?
  7. What types of financial assistance does each program offer?

Graduate school is more of a mentorship program, where students are required to conduct their own research. Therefore, graduate schools look not only for students who will do well in the program, but also for those who will benefit from the program and contribute to the research projects of the schools. Before you apply, make sure that the program is the best fit for you academically and financially. Research the program carefully so that you can find out whether you are the best fit for the program.

Settle Your Score:  GRE and GPA

Most graduate schools seek the best students who will match their programs and offer the most to the field. One approach they use to select these students is to consider students’ GPA and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. Even though these are not the only elements graduate schools use to decide whether a student will be accepted to the program, they are usually the explicit cutoff point. Your awesome recommendation letter or experience will not be considered if your GRE and GPA score is below the required level. There are many things that you can do to prevent yourself from a GRE/ GPA crisis:

  1. Set a goal to get your GPA and GRE scores up to the level that the schools expect you to have. This will offer more opportunity for your recommendation letters and experience to be considered.
  2. It is always smart to start early. You will never realize how difficult and time-consuming the GRE can be until you begin your learning process. Therefore, plan to study for the GRE early, so that you will be well prepared despite other unexpected factors that might affect your plan.
  3. Ask other students to study for the GRE with you. Having a partner can motivate you to be more serious with your study plan.
  4. Take advantage of all the resources you have. There are many different books, apps, and websites that can assist you in getting a higher GRE score.

In contrast with the GRE, building a strong GPA is more of a long-term process. You have to keep on working hard throughout all four years of undergraduate school to achieve a good GPA. The good news is that you do not need to have a 4.0. Be ambitious but also be realistic when you set out to reach your goal GPA so that you will not lose your motivation. Always keep in mind that you have to meet the requirements of the schools to which you are applying. If you have already tried hard but did not get the GPA or GRE score that you wanted, don’t let this undermine your academic career. You can still impress many programs with a well-written personal statement and by spotlighting research experiences and providing strong letters of recommendation. It is important to remember that many graduate programs, including the top ones such as Stanford University, look at more than just your GPA and GRE score.

Research Experience

  • Start research early. Graduate school admission reviewers expect stellar grades and strong GRE scores. Stand out from the applicant crowd by immersing yourself in research as soon as you think a psychology career might be in the cards for you, says Katherine Sledge Moore, a third-year cognitive psychology graduate student at the University of Michigan.

"Research experience is the best preparation for graduate school, and these days is virtually a requirement," she says.

There are many ways you can find research opportunities before applying to graduate school:

  1. Ask professors from your undergraduate psychology courses if they need research assistants or want to take on independent study students. And completing a senior thesis is a must, she adds, because it shows that you have the ability to conduct an entire research experiment from idea conception to final data analysis.
  2. Get psyched for summer.  Spend your free time over summer break or during afternoons off, for example, working in a research lab or volunteering at a hospital's behavioral health center.
  3. If you are having difficulty finding research opportunities, go to the APA’s PSYCIQ website: http://psyciq.apa.org/psyciq-quick-links-funding-sources/. There you will find search tools for locating grants, funds, internship, and research internships.
  4. Always remember to start early. Do not wait until the first semester of your senior year to look for your first research team. If you start early, you will be well prepared by the time you apply for graduate school.

"In two years, you'll have the substantive amount of work done, maybe even enough to submit for publication, before you apply," she says.

Personal statement

The personal statement is the most important element in your application package. You may have chosen the right schools to apply to, but now you must prove that you are the best fit for their program. Throughout your personal statement, show the recruiters that you have amazing research experiences, abilities, potential, clarity of plan, and writing skills. There are a few things that you should keep in mind while drafting your essays:

  1. Do not use the same statements for all schools. Different programs might have different requirements, which means you have to adjust your statement accordingly to what the programs are looking for.
  2. When you are writing about your goals and experiences, aim for precision and detail. Avoid generic statements.
  3. Proofread your statement many times before submitting it.

Recommendation letter

Most graduate school applications require recommendation letters, often from faculty you've worked for or taken classes with. It is easy to get a recommendation letter, but it takes more effort to get a good one that can impress the recruiters:

  1. Remember to ask the right people. Choose only those who know you and your abilities well, and who won’t simply say you got an A in the class.
  2. Make the process easy for your professor. He or she will appreciate it. Be specific about the program or position you are applying for, and provide an accurate list of your experiences and activities.
  3. Do not forget to show your sincere appreciation. A thoughtful, handwritten thank-you note may increase your chances for a future recommendation should you need one.

We hope that this advice gives you a clearer idea of the application process and what you can do to increase your chances of success. Remember that you have to show the recruiter how special and unique you are. Many applicants have outstanding grades and research experience, so make sure that you stand out to the recruiter with your own story. Applying for graduate schools can be challenging, but APA has tools and resources to assist you on your journey.

The information for this article comes from APA’s Graduate and Postdoctoral Education website:

Did you find this article useful?

3 0
28 Jun 2017

Six Questions to Ask Before Applying to Any Psychology Grad Program

Six Questions to Ask Before Applying to Any Psychology Grad Program

You've started your search for a doctoral program, but do you know how to pick the one that's right for you?

"In psychology, we pride ourselves on being evidence-based, but sometimes we forget to look at all the data when we're making our most important career choices," says John Norcross, PhD, a University of Scranton psychology professor and co-author of "The Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology" (2010).

According to graduate program directors and other experts, you've done your homework if can answer these six questions:

1. What kind of job do you eventually want?

Imagine your future career, and work backward to determine the kind of training and education you need. If you'd like to help companies select employees and build better teams, look into industrial-organizational psychology programs. If you want to investigate learning and memory, check out experimental psychology programs. If you hope to someday help judges determine who is competent to stand trial, explore forensic psychology programs.

"Talk with the psychology professors at your undergraduate institution about pathways in psychology, and read books and websites about psychology careers," advises Cynthia Belar, PhD, executive director of APA's Education Directorate. Then, check out APA's online database, "Graduate Study in Psychology," which provides descriptions, admission requirements and application deadlines for more than 600 psychology graduate programs in the United States and Canada.

2. How much debt can you reasonably take on?

Figure out how much you can expect to earn once you have your degree, and then use that number to calculate the amount of graduate school debt that's reasonable for you. According to 2009 data from APA's Center for Workforce Studies, the median starting salary for assistant psychology professors is $53,000, while a clinical psychologist can expect to start out earning $58,000. Given those salaries, it could take years to pay off the median debt loads of new psychologists: $120,000 for clinical PsyDs, $68,000 for clinical PhDs and $38,500 for research-focused PhDs.

If you don't want to be eating ramen into your golden years, limit your applications to psychology programs that offer financial aid in the form of fellowships, scholarships, research and teaching assistantships, and traineeships. "While cost shouldn't be your only basis for selecting a doctoral program, you don't want to wind up saddled with debt you didn't expect," says Elizabeth Klonoff, PhD, co-director of the San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology.

3. What is the added value of selecting an APA-accredited program?

If you're studying clinical, counseling or school psychology, choosing an APA-accredited doctoral program increases your career options. Many internships require students to attend an APA-accredited program, and some state licensing agencies and employers — including academic institutions and government agencies — likewise require a diploma from an APA-accredited doctoral program.

APA accreditation also helps provide some assurance that you'll receive a quality education. To be awarded accreditation, a program must demonstrate that it meets a set of standards established by APA's Commission on Accreditation — for example, it has to have qualified faculty and adequate facilities and student support services, and it must publicly disclose its requirements and policies. View a list of APA-accredited doctoral programs.

4. What are the internship match rates of the graduate programs you are interested in?

Before you can earn your degree in clinical, counseling or school psychology, you'll need to complete a yearlong internship. Unfortunately, there's a shortage of internship programs, with a quarter of psychology graduate students unable to find internships through the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Center's match. Not having one can indefinitely delay your degree. So, before you apply to grad school, be sure the programs have good records for matching students to APA-accredited internships, says Klonoff. To find out programs' match rates to all internships (not just APA-accredited ones), visit the APPIC website (PDF, 1.4MB). APA-accredited graduate programs are required to list their match rates to APA-accredited internships on their websites. "A program that has historically matched really well is likely to match well in the future," says Klonoff.

5. What are your potential programs' EPPP pass rates?

Another issue for future therapists: Practicing psychologists must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, a computerized test of 225 multiple-choice questions. It's designed to evaluate your knowledge of core areas of psychology such as assessment and treatment and the biological bases of behavior. Pick a program with a high pass rate — for a list of pass rates by graduate school, visit the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards website

6. Who are the schools' top researchers?

If you're aiming for a research-focused program, study university websites to identify faculty members under whom you'd like to work. Ideally, you should pick a program where several professors are doing research that interests you, says M. Ellen Mitchell, PhD, dean of the College of Psychology at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. "If you want to do developmental psychology, it may not be the best decision to go to a program with only one faculty member whose work is in that area, unless that person's work aligns very closely with what you want to do," she says.

If possible, meet future faculty advisers at professional conferences or when you visit campuses for pre-admission interviews. "That's probably the best way to assess whether there's a good fit," says Rod Wellens, PhD, who chairs the University of Miami psychology department. "Also, look at the past performance of a potential faculty mentor — are their students publishing and getting good postdocs or other employment positions?" Check the professors' webpages for a list of their current students and postdocs. Then enter those students' names into PsycINFO and Google to search for their publications or other information about their work. 

If a particular faculty member shows he or she is really interested in working with you, that school should zoom to the top of your list, says Norcross. That's because a good faculty adviser is key to graduate school success. "They can offer individualized advice, serve as role models, and assist you in selecting an internship and launching your career," says Klonoff.

By Jen Uscher,  a writer in Brooklyn, N.Y.


This article was originally published in the September 2011 gradPSYCH Magazine

Did you find this article useful?

1 0